’Tis the season to think green! So let’s do as the leprechauns do and celebrate a goal shared by real and imaginary creatures alike: protecting one’s stash.
Whether you’ve got an overflowing pot of gold or a more modest balance sheet, here are four principles for protecting your wealth.
Insure Your Stash
The biggest threat to your wealth is unforeseen expenses, especially medical bills; home and car repair; liability; and lost income due to death or disability. Failing to carry insurance against catastrophic losses isn’t thrifty; it’s shortsighted. The good news is that more Americans have access to affordable medical insurance than ever before, and shopping for car and home insurance has gotten cheaper and more convenient thanks to online marketplaces.
Plan for Emergencies
Your emergency fund (aka auxiliary pot of gold) works along with insurance. The emergency fund protects you against small losses; insurance protects you against big ones. Personal finance experts will argue endlessly about how big your emergency fund should be ($1000? Three months of expenses? Six months?), but we all agree on this: any emergency fund is better than none. Keep it in an FDIC-insured savings account; an online account that pays a little interest is a good choice.
Invest Your Gold Wisely
Most of us will have to fund a substantial portion of our retirement from our own savings. That makes it critical to invest well. Luckily, this doesn’t require supernatural abilities. Choose low-cost funds (such as index funds), don’t take more risk than you can handle (always own both stocks and bonds), save aggressively, and don’t be impulsive. Make a plan and stick to it regardless of what your cousin warns you about on Facebook. Great investing may be boring: it means thinking long-term, using unexciting mutual funds, and not making any sudden moves.
Create Your Own Pot of Gold
When we’re trying to save more money, we obsess over restaurant meals, entertainment, and travel—that is, we start by trying to cut out the most enjoyable, stress-relieving parts of our lives, even though they probably add up to a small part of our monthly spending. Instead, consider what you could save on housing or transportation. Voluntarily downsizing or giving up one car in favor of public transit, cycling, or car sharing can save hundreds per month, and there’s no evidence that it will make you any less happy. (Unless you reduce your commute time or get some cardio in on the way to work, in which case it’ll make you more happy.)